Ask Dr. Intranet

BOSTON (06/05/2000) - With all the new e-mail viruses going around (Melissa, ILOVEYOU, etc.), how do you protect yourself?

First, I have the luxury of being able to log on to our mail server and preview my e-mail on the Unix server. Microsoft Corp. macro viruses won't do any harm there. This lets me weed out a large amount of mail that I don't need to download. Second, I don't use Microsoft mail clients. Third, I don't open attachments unless I absolutely have to. E-mail attachments are a carrier's dream and a working man's nightmare. Do you realize how big a one-paragraph note becomes when you put it into a word processing program attachment? For example, this column is more than 20 times larger as a Word document than as an ASCII text file. I don't have time to mess around launching applications to read attachments I don't care about. Unless I know the sender and I know that I care about what they sent me in the attachment, I don't open attachments.

Even so, I have occasionally messed up. At that point there are two more lines of defense: I keep the important stuff backed up, and I keep my virus software current. The last virus that almost got me came in a PowerPoint attachment that tried to hide itself from Windows. MacAfee identified the virus as uncleanable and locked my machine. I powered down, booted up Linux and erased the file.

Blass is a network architect at Sprint Paranet in Houston. He can be reached at dr.intranet@paranet.com.

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